Listen to the Buddha, listen to the King?-Bangkok Post

April 28, 2012

[CJ Hinke of FACT comments: Our “Thai-ness” is allegedly made up of devotion to “Nation-Religion-King”. In the latter two aspects, nearly nobody follows the Buddha’s teachings of poverty, simplicity, meditation, ahimsa nonviolence, metta compassion or loving-kindness for all beings not just humans and non-killing which makes many sects of Mahayana Buddhists vegetarian. In fact, my biggest shock on moving to Thailand was that monks eat meat.

King? Well, nobody listens to him, either. He just a symbol, to be paraded around when one’s loyalty needs be demonstrated. His words, his teachings are not followed in the highest levels of govt and politics.

That leaves “Nation”. The only symbol of the Thai nation is the military which directly contradicts the Buddha’s teachings.

Buddha in a shopping mall? Give me a break! “Nation-Religion-King”? Not in this country!]

COMMENTARY

Thailand has betrayed Buddha ideals

Sanitsuda Ekachai

Bangkok Post: April 26, 2012

http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/290480/thailand-has-betrayed-buddha-ideals

Departure lounge at Spaceship Dhammakaya. It’s a cult, Virginia…

His name is Amnart Buasiri, he is the deputy director of the Office of National Buddhism, and his wish is to export Buddhism as a commodity _ boosting the country’s international trade by converting westerners.

No, this is not a joke. Mr Amnart was dead serious when he introduced his grand plan.

When those at the top like Mr Amnart think of Buddhism as a commodity, should we still be wondering why Thai Buddhism is in deep trouble?

The deputy director announced his wish at a seminar on the uproar that greeted the Dhammakaya Temple’s controversial pilgrimage through Bangkok.

In line with the Dhammakaya Movement’s devotion to grandeur and pomposity, a procession of 1,500 Dhammakaya monks and novices paraded through the capital’s congested main streets for five days to move a gold statue of their meditation master, the late Luang Por Sod, to Wat Pak Nam.

The tudong, or walking pilgrimage, is a practice meant to foster mindfulness and equanimity in the face of austere conditions and unexpected difficulties. Usually done in solitude in remote or forest locations, the tudong is the monks’ practice of homelessness, their way of following in the footsteps of the Buddha.

The Dhammakaya monks instead paraded en masse on long red mats covered with rose petals sprinkled on them by the faithful, while photographers perched on cranes in all the right spots to record the spectacular sight for the temple’s future public relations efforts.

This departure from a tradition of simplicity, and the heavy traffic caused by the fanfare, led to a public outcry. But Mr Amnart was fiercely defensive of Dhammakaya’s publicity stunt.

Promoting Buddhism is difficult these days, he said, but creative organisers can overcome this with lofty spectacles that capture the attention of the public.

Since the parade was also billed as an event marking the 2,600th anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment _ an occasion his agency is supposed to promote _ Mr Amnart was thankful for the publicity the pilgrimage brought.

From the perspective of event organisers, it is understandable how one could think of Buddhism as a commodity.

“We should think of how to export Buddhism as a product,” Mr Amnart said unabashedly. “We have about 350 temples overseas. If we can make foreign businessmen appreciate dhamma practice and become Buddhists, Thailand’s foreign trade will have no problem in the future.”

Can you understand his logic? Can you understand how a person who is supposed to be an expert on Buddhism could speak like that, and keep a straight face, no less? I simply can’t.

Dhammakaya is notorious for teaching that your chances of reaching heaven and attaining nirvana depends on how much money you donate to the temple. But Mr Amnart has no issues with that.

Different teaching approaches do not matter, he said. What counts is how to make Buddhism better known, and how to make Thailand be seen as the world centre of Buddhism.

In short, face is the ultimate goal. Who cares about the religious and spiritual essence of Buddhism?

Mr Amnart is not alone. To celebrate 2,600 years since Buddha attained enlightenment, other Buddhist groups have their own grand events in store for next month.

Maha Viharn Loy Fah, or “the palatial temple in the sky”, will be held at a luxurious shopping mall where excessive consumerism is extolled _ the polar opposite of the teachings of the Buddha.

The intention is to get the religion more in tune with modern life. But don’t be surprised if shoppers end up treating the events and Buddhism itself like just another product to consume.

Is this how we want to express our gratitude to the Buddha?

The world is under threat from excessive exploitation of natural resources to feed our gluttonous lifestyles. Thailand, which falsely prides itself on being a Buddhist country, is ready to crack, broken by anger, hatred and social injustice.

We must start questioning our materialistic aspirations and way of life, as well as the political and economic systems that presently shun the Buddhist principle of non-exploitation. We cannot hope to save our planet, our country, or our souls, when our real religion is nothing more than Buddhism for show.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor, Bangkok Post.

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